learn to play the clarinet like Acker Bilk…..

or make some vegetable soup; it’s easier and it’s part of your 5 a day.

For those unfortunate to be born too late, go to the following link to catch up.

Anyway, courgettes and lettuce are in short supply (and therefore expensive), so go for what the great British climate provides – parsnips and carrots. Peel, chop them up and throw them in a pan, after frying some onion in butter for 10 mins. Pour in a litre or so of chicken stock and this is what you get – yummy or what?

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Put it on low, have a coffee and forget about it for half an hour, unless you remember to stir it halfway through (optional).

If it looks mushy, then it’s probably cooked, so throw it in a liquidiser and build up the courage to taste it but expect it to taste worse than rubbish.. Empty the cupboards until you find the one with spices and keep adding them until it tastes OK. A tablespoon of Curry powder works great (trust me) or mixed spices etc. Oh and add salt and pepper or seasoning as the professionals call it.

If you’re lucky (or unlucky as you’ll have to eat it), it’ll turn out like this.

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Add water until you get the consistency of fresh wallpaper paste and that’s it. Eat it, freeze it or give it to the dog; but don’t tell the RSPCA.

Throw some bits on the top if you want, like cream or chopped tomato, or croutons (bits of toast with the crust cut off) or anything green and edible like Parsley and it’ll be as good as starter from a posh restaurant. Serve it with hot crusty bread and I guarantee you’ll enjoy it.

But be prepared; after a few hours you’ll be playing “Stranger on the Shore”, like a pro.

How did I get myself into this..?

My wife’s a star and she’s brilliant aswell – particularly where cooking is concerned. She’s made Xmas diner for 40 years, without a break, always first class, never late, and never a complaint – until now…

This year (2016) she’s had enough. And it’s further compounded by the biggest group so far, of 9. Our 3 sons, their partners (2 for the first time) and Nana. So what do I do? Step in, like a knight in shining armour and say, “don’t worry dear, I’ll make it, I’ve always wanted to and now I’ve got the time”. I even sing the chorus of a song from one of the most revered engineers and handymen ever, “leave it with me” – Ted Glen star of Postman Pat.

To put this into context I did a bit of cooking, in the first year of married life and have done very little since. On one occasion, when working away from home, I even rang my wife for advice on how to make a “cup-o-soup”; embarrassing but true.

So the purpose of these blogs is to share with you, how I approached it, what went well and what didn’t. My hope is that it will help others to have a go and give their better halves a deserved change at Christmas. So why not have a go yourself in 2017?

I’ll blog on this topic with tips, over the coming weeks. However, I’ll share the first 3 with you now.

Tip 1 – RESEARCH

As far as cooking goes I’m base zero, so the internet was a great place to start and I’d recommend the following sites:

http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes

http://www.enjoy-how-to-cook.com/

http://www.maryberry.co.uk/home

One conclusion I came to, was that there is no single defined way to do anything. Even yorkshire puddings can be made many, many different ways, eg 1,2 or 4 eggs for the same quantity. Many different ingredients and methods work, so just pick one that seems to fit with your diners preferences AND your level of ability and go for it.

From the research, you’ll arrive at a menu and this was mine.

This is a challenging menu for a newbie (and probablyeven an experienced cook), so that leads to the second tip.

Tip 2 – DELEGATE!

I started by thinking I wanted to do everything myself but I soon came to my senses and delegated. I’m very fortunate to have willing and able, sons and their partners, so one couple took on the starters and one took on the sweets. This worked out really well on the day, as I was not alone in the kitchen and it was really nice for all of us to work together, without a cross word – promise!

My wife also gave lots of advice and was an invaluable help when the heat was on. She also enjoyed her day more than ever, as she could relax, have a drink of champagne and spend time with our family.

Tip 3 – PLANNING

Seems obvious but as in many things, it’s the key to success. The maxim, “Failure to plan, is to plan to fail” is true. As is, “proper planning prevents p**s poor performance”.

My planning was done using the following excel spreadsheet.

You’ll see I’ve planned quantities, methods, and timing. The timing tab is incomplete as I ended up writing it out as I was changing it that much. However, on the day, the timing plan is absolutely vital. Mine worked but only just, as any xmas day cook will tell you, it gets frantic the closer you get to mealtime! You don’t have time to think, so just follow the plan and cross your fingers.

Make as much as you can before the big day. I made and froze the red cabbage a couple of weeks earlier and on Xmas eve I made the turnip, stuffing and apple sauce. I even planned which serving dish to use for each offering AND labelled them! Sad but true and effective. Remember, you can’t over plan.

Here’s a link on planning using excel spreadsheets, from Mr Chris Croft, a first class business trainer I came across several years ago.

Chris is a great guy, with a website packed with useful and interesting stuff – go to,

http://www.chriscroft.co.uk/?v=79cba1185463